Chapter 87: It Hurts to Be a Hero (5)
Hawa was a little anxious. Chi-Woo had always been a man of habit who followed a very strict routine, but today, he had failed to show up even though it was way past his usual time to return; usually, he would have entered the spring pool and fallen asleep by now. The fact that he hadn’t come back yet indicated that something unexpected had happened.
After spending some time waiting nervously, Hawa got up to look for Chi-Woo, just in time to see Chi-Woo walk into the sanctuary with blood streaming down his body. Her eyes widened. He looked terrible. His face and arms were covered in wounds, and his clothes were tattered like rags with blood seeping from the rips.
Chi-Woo leaned on Hawa and let out the breath he had been holding. With an exhale, he said, “I saw the monster.”
While dragging him to the spring pool, Hawa came to an abrupt stop. Chi-Woo continued to explain, “The monster is about your height, Ms. Hawa. Its body was covered in a substance that looked like mud.”
Hawa turned to meet his eyes, and Chi-Woo went on, “I think it’s capable of mimicking the forms of other things. I believe it can transform parts of its body into weapons.”
“…Did you go check on the monster? On purpose?” Hawa asked, her lips twitching and her pupils contracting. Although she had been speaking informally to Chi-Woo after beating him in a fight, she reverted back to addressing him politely now, which made it clear how much Chi-Woo’s words had shocked her.
There was a hint of disapproval in her tone, and she looked at Chi-Woo like he had gone mad like Mimi had. Truthfully, Chi-Woo also knew that what he had done was mad, and he had only done it in the heat of his anger. However, it was something he had to do sooner or later.
“It’s not enough,” Chi-Woo said in a low voice. “We don’t have enough information about the monster. We have to learn more about it.”
“We can’t stay here forever.”
Hawa closed her mouth. She didn’t know what had happened outside, but Chi-Woo’s eyes were s.h.i.+ning…just like the eyes she had seen when she was finally freed from her possession.
“We have to get out of here. To do that, we have to learn more about the monster and the layout of this place.”
“I found a path leading to the upper floor. If we consider this the bas.e.m.e.nt, the path would take us through at least three more floors.”
“…Let’s heal you first.” Hawa pushed Chi-Woo into the spring pool. The fishes that had been waiting in the pool gathered. However, Chi-Woo raised his hand and shook his head.
“Give me a moment.”
The fishes that were hurrying to cure him stopped. They all raised their heads like they were asking him ‘why?’
“Later…I will receive treatment a bit later.”
The fishes seemed puzzled.
“Please.” Chi-Woo lowered his head and backed away awkwardly. He was hurting, aching, and in pain. The sensation of water touching his exposed bones where his skin and flesh were split open was fresh in his mind. However, he had to endure and get used to the pain. No matter how painful or torturous it was, he had to learn how to overcome the pain and rise again. Ru Amuh had told him as much.
[This level of injury is nothing to me, sir.]
[I would be fine having such shallow cuts all over my body.]
Chi-Woo had to be prepared for injuries of this level. He must not let them get to him. Only then would he be able to endure greater pain.
“Urgh…” Chi-Woo swallowed the groans trying to escape out of his mouth. He arched his body and buried his face between his knees. The blood flowing out of his entire body slowly blotted his vision and painted it red.
* * *
After that day, Hawa noticed a change in Chi-Woo’s att.i.tude. Before, he only talked of leaving the cave but never actively tried to get out. After yesterday’s fiasco, though, things were different. His routines remained similar, and as he always did, he would wake up inside the spring pool, have a feast, and head outside. But now, whenever he came back, he returned with injuries all over his body. After getting his body healed while groaning inside the spring pool, Chi-Woo would sit with Hawa and share the information he’d gathered. Hawa would then draw a map on the ground according to what he said.
And as Chi-Woo changed, Hawa also changed. Instead of leaving Chi-Woo to be in charge on his own, she also began to venture out of their safe haven. She went to double-check the path Chi-Woo had taken and looked for new paths. There were times when they went out together, and in those times, at least one of them was able to find a comparatively safer path. For some unknowable reason, though, the monster seemed intent on chasing Chi-Woo. Over time, the map on the ground expanded more and more as they shared information they had gathered with each other, and their plan to escape became more concrete.
Moreover, Chi-Woo had been training more vigorously than ever. “Huff! Huff!” Like now, Chi-Woo had resumed running immediately after completing his scouting run on the upper floor and getting healed. Sweat trickled down his back, and his back radiated heat as he did pushups. Chi-Woo’s eyes widened and gleamed with eagerness, and he appeared almost like a lunatic, which was exactly what he intended; he wanted to become crazy.
Chi-Woo had left Earth for Liber. It was impossible for an ordinary person to survive in this world. However, he couldn’t just stop being ordinary overnight, especially when he had lived more than 20 years on Earth as one. And in these moments of doubt, Chi-Woo recalled what his dad told him: ‘You must try your best once you set your mind on accomplis.h.i.+ng something.’
‘Have I put all my heart and soul into ensuring my survival?’ Chi-Woo would ask himself, and the thought pushed him to train more rigorously, wasting not even the time to take a proper breath. He was leading his life like a crazy person.
Eventually, he came up with a solution to the most pressing problem he was facing: fear. Everyone had a fear of the unknown, but how could they overcome it? Chi-Woo had found the answer to this question—he had to believe in himself. If he did, he would be able to overcome whatever hards.h.i.+ps and adversities that came his way. And to gain faith in himself, he needed to train.
The studious one would get rewarded in the end for their efforts, and Chi-Woo decided to build faith in himself by training. It was something Chi-Woo had considered before, but things were different this time. Training was a battle with his old self, and every time he beat his own record, he gained the confidence that he would be able to overcome everything. As a result, his mindset gradually changed.
[Purification process of the body in the works…99.1%]
Although the purification process had gotten noticeably slower, Chi-Woo didn’t concern himself too much about it. In the past, he’d been obsessed with these obvious metrics for progress, but they were no longer his focus. He prioritized the process instead and did his best every moment every day like his dad had told him to. As long as he continued to overcome his own limit, he would have no regrets even if he died the next moment.
With that in mind, Chi-Woo scrutinized and pushed himself more and more, lengthening his training in the process. One time, he forewent sleep for several days because he had been so immersed in his training that he forgot about his need. Mimi worried that he was pus.h.i.+ng his body too much, but Chi-Woo shook his head. He knew the importance of taking breaks, but this wasn’t the time to be concerned about resting. He had to go crazy.
Now, he no longer thought of his training inside the cave as merely a means to escape, but as a test to see whether or not he would be able to survive in this World.
‘I have to do my best to pa.s.s this test.’
The bas.e.m.e.nt was deeper than they had thought. It was connected to the three floors above, but there was another floor above the third one. Chi-Woo managed to gain this information after risking his life on the line. Just like now—
“Ah, seriously!” Chi-Woo shouted in anger while running like mad. “Why is it only chasing after me!?” When he turned the corner, several paths appeared in front of him. He didn’t even have the time to choose which way to go. Although he wanted to take a path he had never taken before, he couldn’t risk it with the monster chasing after him. He thus took a path he was familiar with.
After numerous explorations, they had found a buffer zone of sorts where they could put more distance from the monster. The main thing about the monster was that it always doggedly chased after them with no regard for anything else, and it was fast. If Chi-Woo was running along a straight path, he would inevitably be caught by the monster.
Of course, he could get further away from the monster if he avoided its attack. However, he couldn’t avoid its attack every time, so it was best to increase his distance from the monster as much as possible. One solution was making sharp turns. Every time Chi-Woo turned a corner, he stuck as close as he could to the wall to minimize the distance he had to move.
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On the contrary, the monster seemed unable to make such calculations; its movement was almost clumsy when it chased after Chi-Woo through a corner, which allowed Chi-Woo to increase their distance. Therefore, in areas with a lot of corners, Chi-Woo would be able to lead the monster on a merry chase like they were playing tag.
“Hey. I scouted the area while its attention was on you, but no luck. I ended up getting to a dead end.” She addressed him with honorifics whenever Chi-Woo returned with injury, but now, she was back to speaking informally to him. Chi-Woo resolved to beat her in a fight someday so that she would call him oppa.
“That’s fine,” Chi-Woo said with a nod. “Would you please draw the new paths you’ve discovered so that I would know where not to go?”
“I already added them.” Hawa threw the rock away and glanced at Chi-Woo. “Want to spar again today?”
“Yes, let’s do it right now. I’m not injured anywhere today.” After a pause, he added, “Want to make another bet? It’s been a while.”
“If that’s what you want.”
“…I got it. Hawa nuna,” Chi-Woo replied with reluctance and readied his stance. Sparring with Hawa had become part of his daily routines recently. He no longer focused on beating Hawa anymore. Of course, he still wanted to win, but learning how to fight and applying these skills to real-life was more important. For example, a new technique he had recently tried was the trick of minimizing his distance while turning to increase his distance from the mud monster.
He also studied ways to move his body as little as possible while avoiding Hawa’s attacks, as well as ways to minimize the pain when getting hit. That was how Chi-Woo had been applying newfound knowledge and skills in a fight, but it was extremely frustrating for Hawa. Chi-Woo rarely attacked. All he focused on were defending and evading her attacks; Hawa usually got tired earlier than him. While she didn’t lose, she couldn’t beat him, either.
Chi-Woo had gotten extremely good at evading her attacks; even when she managed to land a hit, his composure didn’t break before. Hawa could understand a little why the mud monster only chased after Chi-Woo.
“Are you going to keep blocking?” In the end, Hawa couldn’t stand it any longer and complained.
“Ah.” Chi-Woo stopped and scratched his head. “I’m sorry. It became a habit after I kept running away from the monster.”
Hawa bit her lower lip in response. Since it was true that she had only been able to scout the upper floor with relative safety thanks to Chi-Woo’s efforts, she couldn’t really criticize his method of fighting.
“I’ll attack from now on,” added Chi-Woo.
“Nah, it’s fine. Let’s end it here today.” Hawa shook her head. “I was the one who told you to focus on evading, but you should still learn how to retaliate.”
“…Good work. You should take a bath and get at least a little bit of sleep.”
Chi-Woo listened obediently and took off his clothes. Since he knew Hawa was going to enter the spring pool with him, he left his underwear on. After making sure that Chi-Woo had entered the pool, Hawa also took off her clothes. When she approached the spring pool, she saw that Chi-Woo had lowered his head, and he was snoring. In that short amount of time, he had fallen asleep.
Hawa snorted and was about to dip her foot into the pool when—
“!” She recoiled in shock The water had become burning hot without any warning, and it felt like she was touching magma. Moreover, she felt a strong sense of resistance from the pool she hadn’t been feeling recently; it seemed to be warning her to not enter today.
At that moment, Chi-Woo got sucked into the pool as if someone had yanked him down from underwater. Hawa’s eyes widened in shock. There was the sound of something boiling, and the white pearl inside the pool began to radiate a white light.
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